Senate approves border fence, endorses citizenship chance for illegal immigrants |

Senate approves border fence, endorses citizenship chance for illegal immigrants

WASHINGTON – The Senate agreed to give millions of illegal immigrants a shot at U.S. citizenship and backed construction of 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the Mexican border Wednesday, but prospects of the legislation clearing Congress were clouded by a withering attack against President Bush by a prominent House Republican.”Regardless of what the president says, what he is proposing is amnesty,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the lawmaker who would lead House negotiators in any attempt to draft a compromise immigration bill later this year.He said Bush had “basically turned his back” on a tough border security bill after encouraging the House to pass it last year.Sensenbrenner’s blast underscored the deep Republican divisions on immigration, and coincided with a clash among GOP senators on the Senate floor.”This is not amnesty, so let’s get the terms right,” Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska lectured fellow Republicans who condemned the bill. “Come on. Let’s stop the nonsense.””It sort of reminds me of the famous line, ‘Methinks thou dost protest too much,”‘ responded Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who repeatedly described the legislation as an amnesty bill for lawbreakers.Ironically, the votes on the Senate floor gave fresh momentum to legislation that closely follows Bush’s call for a broader bill that addresses the legal status of illegal immigrants as well as providing for a new guest worker program. Senate passage appears likely next week.The political wheels turned as demonstrators massed within sight of the Capitol demanding greater rights for immigrants, the latest evidence of rising passions in connection with efforts to write the most significant overhaul of immigration law in two decades.With the administration eager to emphasize its commitment to border security, officials continued to flesh out details of Bush’s Monday night announcement that he would send up to 6,000 National Guard troops to states along the Mexican border.Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, raised the possibility that Guard members could be sent over the objections of a state’s governor.”If a governor truly did not want this mission performed in their state, then the option is there for the president and the secretary of defense to federalize the Guard. And then the mission would be conducted, and then it would be without the control of the governor,” he said.Vitter led the drive to strip from the bill a provision giving an eventual chance at citizenship to illegal immigrants who have been in the country more than two years. His attempt failed, 66-33, at the hands of a bipartisan coalition, and the provision survived. In all, 41 Democrats joined with 24 Republicans and one independent to turn back the proposal. Opponents included the leaders of both parties, Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Harry Reid, D-Nev. Thirty-one Republicans and two Democrats supported Vitter’s amendment.The vote to build what supporters called a “real fence” – as distinct from the virtual fence already incorporated in the legislation – was 83-16. It marked the first significant victory for conservatives eager to leave their stamp on a measure that looks increasingly like it is headed toward Senate passage.Construction would send “a signal that open-border days are over. … Good fences make good neighbors, fences don’t make bad neighbors,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. He said border areas where barriers are in place have experienced economic improvement and reduced crime.”What we have here has become a symbol for the right wing in American politics,” countered Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. He said if the proposal passed, “our relationship with Mexico would come down to a barrier between our two countries.”All Republicans and more than half the Senate’s Democrats supported the proposal. A core group of bill supporters who have held off other more serious challenges in the past two days made little attempt to fight this one, judging it far less damaging than the attack on the citizenship provision or an attempt on Tuesday to strip out a guest worker program.The Senate labored to complete work by next week on immigration legislation that generally follows an outline Bush set out in his nationally televised speech this week.The measure includes provisions to strengthen border security, create a new guest worker program and crack down on the hiring of illegal immigrants as well as the controversial steps offering illegal immigrants an eventual opportunity to become citizens.Supporters of the Senate measure credited Bush’s prime-time Monday night speech with giving fresh momentum to the effort to pass long-stalled legislation.Across the Capitol in the House, the story was different. Republicans pushed through a border security bill last year, and several members of the rank-and-file have criticized Bush for his proposals. To calm their concerns, the White House dispatched Karl Rove to discuss immigration with the House Republicans at their weekly closed-door meeting.Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, an outspoken opponent of the Senate bill, derided the effort. “I didn’t see it was a persuasive event. If it was about Karl Rove seeking to convince members of Congress after debate that he’s right and we’re wrong it would have been better not to have the meeting,” he said.King said Rove told lawmakers Bush is sincere about enforcement. But, he added, “The president doesn’t want to enforce immigration law because he’s afraid he’ll inconvenience someone who wants to come into the country for a better life.”Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., agreed that Rove did not seem to have been persuasive. “It’s not the kind of issue you can compromise on; either you’re giving amnesty to people who are here illegally or you aren’t.”The National Capital Immigration Coalition organized the afternoon demonstration on the National Mall a few blocks from where lawmakers debated the issue they cared about.”This is a critical moment. We oppose the militarization of the U.S-Mexican border,” said Juan Jose Gutierrez, one of the event’s organizers.Vail, Colorado

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